The sonic resemblance of Springhouse to some of the dream-textured art-pop groups about whom drummer/journalist Jack Rabid has written extensively in his fanzine The Big Takeover is no coincidence, but then neither is it a criticism. Knowing that cognoscenti can discern echoes of England (Chameleons and Comsat Angels), New Zealand (Chills) and Australia (Church) in the New York trio’s records is hardly enough to support charges of untoward derivation. Springhouse’s most distinctive feature was its own singular invention: singer/songwriter Mitch Friedland’s nylon-string guitar, played through harmonizing effects to produce a wash cycle safe for the finest gauze, driven with firm rock fortitude by Rabid’s English-accented drumming and Larry Heinemann’s busy bass.
Land Falls is a sweeping, exhilarating debut, containing three gorgeous songs — “Eyesore,” “Layers” and “Open Your Eyes” — that are easily the equal of anything by the band’s putative archetypes. Amid the imaginative chord progressions and stylishly grand arrangements, however, Friedland’s voice goes awry at the top end of his range; Rabid’s two turns at the mic (“Eskimo,” “Alone”) make an even trade of safety for allure. The trio occasionally drags its creative tail, allowing the sensual rapture of billowing atmospheres to obscure lesser material, but the album pairs solid tunes with seductive sounds often enough to make it both pleasurable and memorable. (The Eskimo EP surrounds that sympathetic song about winter homelessness with “Layers,” two non-LP originals and a Rabid-sung cover of the Saints’ “Angels.”)
Produced by Joe Chiccarelli, Postcards From the Arctic redresses most of the debut’s shortcomings with improved singing, more consistent songwriting and carefully considered instrumental designs that thoughtfully serve the material rather than overwhelm it. The trio still gets plenty of mileage from its pretty propwash, but the addition of new elements — guest violin and keyboards-and a radically expanded dynamic sense move it all up a creative notch. After several easygoing verses of “Worthless,” the romance-on-the-rocks song blows open with Friedland’s anguished declaration, “I feel so worthless now,” before settling back on a handsome cello bed. The striking “Asphalt Angels,” which uses the mournful sound of an English horn to excellent effect, funnels the Springhouse style into a gully between the Moody Blues and My Bloody Valentine, while the gentle “Time to Go” is positively Beatlesque. The discovery of an original sound in such sophisticated byways makes Postcards From the Arctic a sterling accomplishment; that the group couldn’t image-monger effectively or affect appropriate accents (or maybe that its records didn’t appear in another era entirely) proved to be insurmountable impediments to its commercial success, and Springhouse disbanded. Rabid formed Last Burning Embers and, in 2001, reunited with the other Springhouse alumni to record a reunion album.